Will County state’s attorney’s program helps children who have been sexually abused

By: Alicia Fabbre, Daily Southtown

Original link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/news/ct-sta-childrens-advocacy-center-st-1028-20151027-story.html

The Will County's Children's Advocacy Center is celebrating it's 20th year with a new director and hopes for a new location.

The center, which State's Attorney James Glasgow established in 1995, aids in the investigation of cases involving sexual abuse against children. On Tuesday, Glasgow and other officials celebrated the anniversary by recognizing those who helped get the center started and by looking to the future.

"The Children's Advocacy Center has done great work for 20 years," said Lisa Morel Las, who was named its executive director in August.

Among the honorees at Tuesday's event were Sister Coletta Hennessy of St. Joseph Medical Center, Paul Pawlak, president and chief executive of Silver Cross Hospital, and Dr. Sangita Rangala of the Care Center at Edward Hospital.

Hennessy helped match a state grant to open the center in 1995 while Pawlak provided office space. Rangala has provided medical exams at Edward Hospital's specialized care center for child victims since 2002. Glasgow also recognized the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for its assistance in operating the center.

The center conducts more than 300 interviews per year relating to claims of sexual abuse against children. Victims interviewed by the center range in age from about 3 years old to 17, Las said.

Before the center's opening, children who were abused often told their stories to multiple people — including parents, police, doctors, attorneys and social service agencies.

The multiple interviews often resulted in discrepancies regarding details of the abuse and forced children to relive the incident several times, Glasgow said. The CAC helped change that and streamlined the process to one interview conducted at the center with a forensic interviewer.

"The child psychology involved in getting a statement that can hold up in court is very delicate," Glasgow said, calling the center a "game changer" in how child sex abuse cases are handled.

He said that through the years, interviews conducted through the CAC have helped in the prosecution of more than 2,000 such cases.

Despite the center's history and success in prosecution of cases, Glasgow said many still hesitate to report child sexual abuse. Las hopes to continue to spread the word about the center to make it easier for people to seek help.

Glasgow and Las said one of their main goals for the center's future is placing it in a house to make the atmosphere more child-friendly.

Currently, the center has offices in the county's Emco building in downtown Joliet. Las said the institutional-like setting can often be intimidating for children.

"We want the child to feel as comfortable and as relaxed as possible so we're not re-victimizing them and so they're more open and willing to talk," she said, noting that a non-office setting would provide a more "homey" feeling for children being interviewed by CAC investigators.

In addition to interviews, the center offers other services such as counseling and medical assistance. A therapy dog also greets young victims to help put them at ease before their interview.

Glasgow and Las are working to add facility dogs, which could be allowed in the courtroom and with children during interviews, to the center's services.

The non-profit center relies on state grants and private donations, rather than local tax dollars, to cover its operating expenses. The state's attorney's office also hosts an annual fundraiser, Men Who Cook, which typically raises about $40,000 to help cover the expenses.

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